Monday, 26 April 2010

In Pursuit of Transformation.

Some further thoughts on the CMI Manifesto....

When published last Autumn, the CMI Manifesto lit a fire in me that almost took me by surprise. I had for so long supressed my frustration at the standard of leadership that I routinely encounter at middle and senior level in organisations, that I'd almost lost sight of how much it matters and how crucial it is that we change it.

When I look at the 'hierachy' in organisations I see a system predicated on so many outmoded concepts.

Payment by 'rank' on the pyramid. We still seem to struggle with how to reward people for their impact in sophisticated ways: with promotion and bonus still by far the main methods in common use. One rewards expertise and impact by removing and potentially diminishing it, the other assumes avarice as the main driver for leadership action.

Leadership Development as a means of enhancing CV and salary. Candidates for MBA are recruited by information about salary enhancement (the business school rankings actually use this as a key indicator) - commensurately far less emphasis is placed on becoming more effective or having a greater impact, let alone on the sociological implications of being a more ethical or people-oriented leader and thereby transforming lives.

Ceilings, glass and in other forms. A diagram from Grant Thornton on the CMI website shows the continuing predominance of male senior leaders (79% in the UK, 80% in USA). Were it to show ethnicity I suspect the situation would be even worse. In these times where we mostly appear to recognise and talk about the need for leaders to be supportive, developmental and people-oriented and to be a mentor, coach and empowering coordinator and facilitator - still only 21% female senior leaders.... why? I'm sick of hearing (and saying) ' it will happen, it takes time for women to rise to board level'.... well we've had more than enough time. And it's still not happened. Now what?

So, to the manifesto. We need leadership. Effective, powerful, human, visionary, ethical leadership. For the greater good, not (just) personal gain. And we need it now. We are part of a profession that is predominantly 'amateur' in the sense that only a small minority are professionally qualified in the field. It's well past time to change it.

Its time that the excuses and justifications for 'not being qualified' were brought into the light and examined:

"I have 10, 20, 30 (insert number of your choice) years' experience in management"
OK. I've been driving a car for 30 years. I still struggle with parallel parking, miss turnings and need a double space at Tesco on a weekend. I've been playing golf for more than 20 years. I lose balls over the fence or in lakes quite often. I have a 6 or even a 7 in most rounds. I suspect that some good coaching would help me improve significantly in both skills. Experience is only part of the story.

"I'm qualified to degree, masters, post-graduate (delete as applicable) level something else"

Don't get me wrong, a high level of qualification in a technical discipline is good news and I'm glad to hear it. But once you're a senior leader, that's not your job any more. You're not an accountant, or a marketer, or an engineer, or a chemist - you're a strategic leader and part of the collective decision-making unit that establishes and communicates vision, formulates strategies and plans and leads the organisation. It's a different job. And a very (ultimately?) difficult one that requires a complex skill-set and constant reflection and development.

"I've already 'made it', so what's the point?"

Well, if you subscribe to the view that professional qualification is about CV and salary, then it's a fair question. I don't hold that view though. I believe that senior leadership is the hardest and most complex role one can have. It requires every ounce of capability one has and more besides. It brings forth new challenges every week and gets harder by the day. And yet it is the most important chair in which one can sit. As a senior leader in a large organisation, your decisions shape the future and affect hundreds or even thousands of people's lives. They may even affect whole sectors, regions or nations. The next decade will see unprecedented change and a global shift for which many appear singularly unprepared - see for more on this. It's not about CV or salary. It's about being the best you can be and being ready for the future. Without effective CPD we are dead and buried.

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